Imagine you are swimming surrounded by schools of dozens of nurse sharks, getting face to face with friendly stingrays, exploring the edge of a mangrove or meeting schools of tropical fish in healthy and shallow coral gardens… Open your eyes…. You are snorkeling in Belize! With an extensive barrier reef located just off its coast, Belize is a perfect snorkeling destination. It has snorkeling sites to suit everyone, even if you’ll need to take a boat tour to reach most of them.
Belize is partly located on the vast Mesoamerican barrier reef system (the second biggest barrier reef in the world, after Australia’s, and the biggest in the northern hemisphere), which runs along 600 miles (1000km) of the coastline of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.
This barrier reef, which Charles Darwin described as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”, has been listed since 1996 as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the variety of its ecosystems (atolls, hundreds of cases, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons, and estuaries) and its biodiversity.
It is estimated that 36 species of soft coral, 70 species of hard coral, and nearly 500 species of fish inhabit Belize’s barrier reef. It is common to see sharks, rays, turtles, or West Indian manatees.
The continental coasts of Belize, edged with tropical forests and mangroves, are not suited to snorkeling. You need to take a boat (or a plane) to the barrier reef, a few miles off the coast.
The most accessible and popular area is Ambergris Caye (and its main town, San Pedro) and Caye Caulker, from where you can explore the wonderful snorkeling spot of Hol Chan Cut and the very famous Shark Ray Alley.
The variety of snorkeling destinations, the clarity of the water, and the accessibility of the islands mean that there is something for snorkelers of all levels.
If it’s an adventure you are after, the more distant atolls of Lighthouse Reef (which includes the Blue Hole National Monument), Turneffe Islands, or Glovers Reef are exceptional spots, providing you have a big budget and you don’t mind spending several hours sailing in the open sea.
You can go snorkeling all through the year in Belize since the climate is tropical and so constantly hot and humid. The rainy season, from June to November, can make outings tricky and reduce the clearness of the water.
This is the hottest period (over 86°F/30°C). It is also the season when hurricanes may hit the Belize coasts. In the dry season, and particularly in December and January, the temperature rarely goes above 80°F/26°C during the day and falls to less than 68°F/20°C at night.
The water temperature is relatively constant, around 82°F/28°C, with variations between the coldest months (December-January) and the hottest (July-August). All through the year, the wind can come up for several days at a time and prevent boats from sailing.
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Unmissable at Shark Ray Alley; also commonly sighted in Hol Chan Cut
Unmissable at Shark Ray Alley; frequent sightings in Hol Chan Cut and The Split
Regular sightings on all reef spots; common (and inquisitive with snorkelers) in Hol Chan Cut;
On most of the spots located on the barrier reef, especially at Hol Chan Cut, the Coral Garden and South Channel
Healthy and massive colonies at Hol Chan Cut
On all spots, commonly seen schooling above the reef
Occasionally sighted on all spots
In large groups in Hol Chan Cut; common on other reef spots
On all spots
Reef cut with sharks, turtles, moray eels and schools of fish
Seagrass meadows with nurse sharks and stingrays
Shallow coral gardens with many fish
Sandy channel edged by mangrove
Free shore access
Shallow reef with moray eels, nurse sharks and stingrays
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